Monday, March 8, 2010

Adventures in Napa, Part 3: Paraduxx and Duckhorn Wineries

We arrived at Paraduxx Winery at 10:30 for a scheduled class in blending wines ($40 fee per participant).  We were greeted by Jeffrey who first invited us outdoors to briefly tour the grounds.  While touring, Jeffrey explained the type of soil in the adjacent vineyards and showed us the barrel and fermentation rooms.   Everything was remarkably clean and sparkling.

Then back indoors to our “classroom.”  In front of each of we three (remember the one-hit-wonder rock band, “we five?”) were five wine glasses.  Into three of the glasses we each poured a Zinfandel barrel sample, a Cabernet Sauvignon barrel sample, and a Merlot barrel sample.  We smelled and sipped each to get a sense of the varietals prior to blending the three.  Although Paraduxx creates blends also using Cab Franc and Petite Verdot, the three we were blending are their signature varietals.

Using a 10 ml pipet (it resembles a long glass straw), we first blended 7 ml Zin with 3 ml Cab in an empty glass. In the other, we blended 6 ml Zin and 4 ml Cab. Then we tasted the two blends. The 7 Zin/3 Cab was fruiter while the 6 Zin/4 Cab blend benefited from the drier heavier Cab. Next, we added 1 ml of Merlot to the above blends. The addition of the Merlot, while only 9% of the overall blend (being 1/11 of the total), further mellowed the fruitiness of the overall blend, and it did seem more balanced, but it also demonstrated how small amounts of an additional varietal can change the end product.  
Jeffrey asked us to taste the blended wines in two ways.  First, taste and let the wine sit in our mouths for a full three seconds before swallowing.  Then take another taste and let it roll around gently in our mouths for a full 10 seconds before swallowing.  He explained that the 10 second taste offers a glimpse of the aging potential over ten years, with each second  representing one year.  We did notice that the wine did seem to peak at 6 or 7 or 8 seconds (depending on the wine)and then level off.  I’m not sure I totally buy Jeffrey’s hypothesis, but it’s something that I’ll definitely try when tasting wines, at least for a while.

So, to summarize, our end formula was 55% Zinfandel, 36% Cabernet, and 9% Merlot, the Paraduxx signature blend.

Jeffrey offered to call ahead for a reservation for a tasting at Duckhorn Vineyards, the Big Brother to Paraduxx.  Before leaving, we did stop to chat with Angela, whom we had met on a previous visit to Paraduxx.  She’s delightful, and when you visit Paraduxx, be sure to ask for her as she will add to your visit and provide a really pleasant tasting experience.

Now, off to Duckhorn!!!

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Abigail, a Senior Educator at the winery, who was expecting us, thanks to Jeffrey’s call.

Abigail led us to a table where the three of us were seated and served cheese, almonds, and breadsticks to complement the forthcoming wines.  Abigail explained that she was assisting us because we were experienced wine tasters but she added that Duckhorn has a range of educators to assist visitors with differing levels of experience and expertise.  The staff is well trained because they get to work in many aspects of wine production.  Abigail had assisted with the last harvest and she also assisted with punch-downs on fermenting grapes.

Rather than spend endless paragraphs on the wines, let it be said that all the Duckhorn wines were excellent.  We tasted a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernets and Merlots from different vineyards, and one excellent blend.

Visiting Duckhorn was a unique experience.  The building that we were in is beautiful, the original artwork was attractive, and the ambience was extremely pleasant.  The staff, especially Abigail, (with whom we did spend the most time) were friendly, attentive, and patient with our questions.  You won’t be made to feel uncomfortable at Duckhorn and you will taste some wonderful wines.

I urge any of you planning a trip to the Napa Valley, to add Paraduxx and Duckhorn to your “must see” venues.  In fact, we may be going back soon, as Abigail is going to be offering a new class focused on wine and food pairings.

Oh, one last item.  We were telling Abigail about Jeffrey’s 10 second tasting hypothesis, and she just rolled her eyes.  She confessed that she and Jeffrey have a friendly rivalry, with emphasis on “friendly.”  She does not buy into his offered hypothesis.

Paraduxx and Duckhorn position their brands as  “luxury” wines so while these wines are relatively high-priced, they are great values for what you get, especially when compared to some of the other wines in the Napa region.



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